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February 5, 2003

Action louder than words for Wolves guard

From: Salem Statesman Journal, OR - 05 Feb 2003

An interpreter stands near the bench to assist Buffy Hummel during games.

Statesman Journal
February 5, 2003

TIMOTHY J. GONZALEZ / Statesman Journal
Bethany (Buffy) Hummel tries to get a pass by one of her Western Oregon
teammates during Monday’s practice. Hummel, who is deaf, uses a sign
language interpreter during practices and games.

MONMOUTH — When Bethany (Buffy) Hummel enters a Western Oregon University basketball game, Sharon Allen moves next to head coach Paula Pietrok on the bench.

When Pietrok signals or yells a play from the bench, Allen signs to Hummel. This is how Hummel, who is deaf, learns what the team is doing and where to be on the court.

The situation is unusual for most of the Western Oregon players and coaches, but it’s not unusual for Hummel, who has been playing competitive basketball since the fifth grade.

Hummel, a junior transfer from Clark Community College in Vancouver, Wash., is in Pietrok’s player rotation as the backup point guard. Her average of 3.5 points in 16.2 minutes per game aren’t flashy, but she is doing a capable job and is having fun playing at the NCAA Division II level. She led the team with five assists Saturday against Northwest Nazarene.

“I call it a learning experience,” Hummel said through Allen, her interpreter at Monday’s practice. “They haven’t been with me, and I haven’t been with them. It’s more challenging for them to get used to me. I can adjust to any situation, but they’ve never had a deaf person on the team before.”

Pietrok, in her first season at WOU, had a slight advantage from a previous coaching experience with Hummel. She coached Hummel at an all-star summer camp in Oregon City.

“It’s been a good thing,” said Pietrok, a former Willamette coach. “It’s a situation we all had to learn. Things that you take for granted, we had to learn how to communicate. How do we tell her a new play, what defense are we playing?”

Pietrok said the Wolves use hand signals for a lot of changes during a game. For example, they have a transition play called ‘Rub’ when Pietrok looks at the point guard and rubs the top of her head.

Allen is the lead interpreter for the disability services program at Western Oregon. She is one of six full-time interpreters for 30 students. The interpreters are with the students in class, and go along on activities such as track and field and dance team.

“The students give us their schedules, and I make the schedule for our group,” Allen said. “We rotate for the (basketball) practices and games.”

In practice, Allen stands next to Pietrok and signals as the latter talks to her players. When Pietrok walks into the middle of an offensive formation, Allen goes right with her.

When Hummel begins a game on the bench, the interpreter will sit next to her and sign whatever Pietrok says. Timeouts, though, offer a new challenge.

With the team huddled around her, Pietrok often diagrams a play on a small portable chalk board on the floor. The interpreter, often crouched next to Pietrok, signs to Hummel.

Pietrok and player Nicole Calderon said there have been few communication problems.

“She has a good personality,” said Calderon, a starting wing. “She’s so lively it makes it a lot easier. We’ll yell at her to get her attention. If she still doesn’t see or know, I’ll stomp my feet or wave. She is very aware.”

When Hummel understands the situation, she’ll often clap her hands or let out a grunt with a smile. It’s her joyful way of responding.

But there are times when Hummel doesn’t see a pass coming toward her.

“People are always yelling at me and I don’t hear them,” she said. “I am used to it. It is just part of the game. I run into people a lot, or vice-versa. In fact, it happened today at practice because I couldn’t hear someone calling out a screen for me.”

As a result, she had a bump under her right eye.

Hummel said Pietrok wants her to concentrate on defending as her first priority, then take care of the ball and take control of the game as the point guard.

“Wing is her natural position, but we need her as the backup point guard,” Pietrok said. “She’s a good ball handler. Her strength is her ability to create shots. She has good quickness off the dribble.”

Although Hummel is playing at her third college in three years, she had stability and success in high school. She played at Oregon City, one of the nation’s elite high school programs, where she was a member of two state championship teams.

Hummel spent her freshman season at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C., where she averaged 13.3 points per game. The school for deaf students plays at the NCAA Division III level.

Hummel said she fit in well at Gallaudet, but she didn’t feel challenged. She transferred to Clark, a school that had recruited her from high school.

It was at Clark where she played with current teammate Amanda Johnson. They had initially met during a summer all-star tournament in Oregon City.

Johnson, who is studying sign language, often communicates with Hummel during practice.

Hummel, a computer science major, said she is enjoying her newest college experience.

“There are no problems for me as a deaf person,” she said. “It’s not a distraction for me. They’re (students) not used to me. The experience here is brand new, but it’s a good deal.”

Reid English can be reached at (503) 399-6702.

TIMOTHY J. GONZALEZ / Statesman Journal
Sign language interpreter Sharon Allen (rear),
signs to Bethany Hummel as coach Paula Pietrok
(front) gives instructions during practice with
the Wolves women’s basketball team.

The Hummel file

Who: Bethany (Buffy) Hummel.

Where: Western Oregon University.

Year: Junior.

Height: 5-foot-6.

Awards: Honorable mention all-state, 2000; second team Three Rivers League, 2000.

Nickname: Older brother Jonathan couldn’t say Bethany at a young age. It came out Buffy; the name stuck.

In the future: Wants to be accessible to deaf people.

Hobbies: Basketball, reading.

Favorite athlete: Jason Kidd.

Copyright 2003 Statesman Journal, Salem, Oregon